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Oct 18, 2000 08:52 PM

A Passion For Hot & Sour Soup

  • d

Do any of you have a genuine passion for good Hot & Sour Soup? I do. All things being equal, I would rather have a good bowl of Hot & Sour Soup than a good bowl of chili. However, it has been some time since I enjoyed a really good bowl of this wonderful soup.

Almost 30 years ago, our area was introduced to our first Mandarin--Szechuan style Chinese restaurant. Among its many delicacies was Hot & Sour Soup. I had never even heard of this soup before. Before this restaurant arrived, the only Chinese restaurant soups I had ever tried were the standard Wonton and Egg Drop.

What a revelation of tastes that my first bowl of Hot & Sour Soup proved to be! It was love at first taste.
Their Hot & Sour Soup was one of this restaurant's many specialites. This was a family run restaurant, and they put their heart and soul into everything they cooked. Their Hot & Sour Soup was outstanding, prepared in a large tureen for 4 persons or more.

About 15 years later, this restaurant closed, due to health problems within the family. In the meantime, the Mandarin--Szechuan--Hunan style of Chinese cuisine swept our area with over 100 restaurants specializing in this style. This resulted in a lot of varieties of Hot & Sour Soup.

However, I'm afraid that the quality of the Hot & Sour Soup in our area has taken a nosedive. Most of it has that "same ol' same ol'" taste. There is nothing more depressing to me than to order a bowl of Hot & Sour Soup and be served with a mediocre quickie pretender to the outstanding rendition with which I was first introduced. I'm afraid that most of our Hot & Sour Soup has taken on the same level of mediocrity as our local Chicken & Broccoli dishes, which I have described in a recent post.

If you, like I do, have a true passion for Hot & Sour Soup, I would be interested in hearing from you. What ingredients and qualities do you look for in a quality serving of this classic soup? Do you know of any restaurants which do a consistently superb job with their Hot & Sour Soup? If so, please feel free to name them.

As for style, I prefer a rich dark stock with plenty of fresh bean curd, fresh lean pork slices, little slivers of real garlic, those wonderful black tree fungus thingies, another funny looking thing that looks like a skinny tan colored asparagus (wood ears?), and scallion pieces on top. My Hot & Sour Soup should neither "shine" with excess oil, nor should it display that gooey excess cornstarch syndrome. The hot and sour flavors should be well balanced, with subtle hints of both black and white pepper evident.

Some people prefer a lighter stock of a rich golden brown. I have had one outstanding rendition of Hot & Sour Soup prepared in this fashion. However, I still prefer the dark stock.

A lot of the Hot & Sour Soup in our area is truly depressing, consisting of canned button mushrooms, an excessively oily and/or gooey surface, mundane ingredients such as bamboo shoots, cabbage, and carrots (which don't do Hot & Sour Soup any favors, IMO), tofu chunks which are obviously not fresh, and a lack of good quality pork slices and scallions.

Okay, let's hear from you. What do you look for in an outstanding Hot & Sour Soup? What makes it particularly outstanding? And where do you go to get it?


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  1. See thread on "Best Of" board about H&S soup.

    1. I share a similar H&S Soup addiction. Many years ago I studied with Florence Lin at the China Institute in NY. Her version used pork, tree ears,tofu and fragrent tiger lily buds( possibly those asparagus? thingies you refered to). She cautioned us about not thickening too much and using white and black pepper not chili oil. I agree with you in using a richer stock, a small amount of vinegar and garnishing with fresh scallions and just the right amount of sesame oil. I am living in a town with "Faux" Chinese and there is not a single good H&S available. So I make my own.When I do travel I will often make a meal of the soup bur unfortunately I am often disappointed to find canned button mushroom, water chestnuts and red chili oil in a strange thick oily soup.I think we get stuck with the idea of how certain things should taste. Ever try to change from your mothers syle of Potato Salad? Hard to do.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Scott

        I too am an addict. I have read twenty different recipes and tried to make H&S soup at least a half dozen times at home. While each was edible (sort of), none was very authentic tasting. Would you mind posting your recipe? Or is there someone else out there who really knows how to make the classic H&S soup who would post a good recipe for it?